Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 8.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

To the House of Representatives [1]

February 10, 1865

To the Honorable, the House of Representatives.

In response to your resolution of the 8th. Inst. requesting information in relation to a conference recently held in Hampton Roads

Page  275I have the honor to state that on the day of the date I gave Francis P. Blair sent a card written on as follows, towit: [2]

Allow the bearer, F. P. Blair, Senr. to pass our lines, go South and return

Dec. 28. 1864 A. LINCOLN

That at the time I was informed that Mr. Blair sought the card as a means of getting to Richmond, Va. but he was given no authority to speak or act for the government; nor was I informed of any thing he would say or do on his own account, or otherwise. Afterwards Mr. Blair told me that he had been to Richmond, and had seen Mr. Jefferson Davis; and he Mr. B. at the same time left with me a manuscript letter, as follows, towit: [3]

F. P. Blair Esqr. Richmond Va

Sir: 12 Jany 65

I have deemed it proper and probably desirable to you to give you in this form the substance of remarks made by me to be repeated by you to Presdt. Lincoln &c &c

I have no disposition to find obstacles in forms, and am willing now as heretofore to enter into negociations for the restoration of Peace; am ready to send a commission whenever I have reason to suppose it will be received, or to receive a commission if the U.S. Govt. shall choose to send one. That notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers, I would if you could promise, that a Commissioner, Minister or other Agent would be received, appoint one immediately and renew the effort to enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.

Yrs &c JEFFN DAVIS

Afterwards, and with the view that it should be shown to Mr. Davis I wrote and delivered to Mr. Blair a letter as follows, to-wit: [4]

F. P. Blair, Esq Washington,

Sir: Jan. 18. 1865

Your having shown me Mr. Davis' letter to you of the 12th. Inst. you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue,Page  276 ready to receive any agent whom he, or any other influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country. Yours &c A. LINCOLN.

Afterwards Mr. Blair dictated for and authorized me to make an entry on the back of my retained copy of the letter last above recited, which entry is as follows. [5]

January 28. 1865

To-day Mr. Blair tells me that on the 21st. Inst. he delivered to Mr. Davis the original of which the within is a copy, and left it with him; that at the time of delivering it, Mr. Davis read it over twice in Mr. Blair's presence, at the close of which he, Mr. B. remarked that the part about ``our one common country'' related to the part of Mr. D's letter about ``the two countries'' to which Mr. D. replied that he so understood it. A. LINCOLN

Afterwards the Secretary of War placed in my hands the following telegram, indorsed by him, as appears. [6]

Office U.S. Military Telegraph,

Cipher War Department.

The following Telegram received at Washington, M. Jan 29. 1865.

From Hd Qrs Army of James 6.30 pm 1865.

Hon. Edwin M. Stanton. Secretary of War. Jan. 29.

The following dispatch just rec'd from Maj. Gen. Parke, who refers it to me for my action. I refer it to you in Lieut Gen. Grant's absence.

E. O. C. ORD Maj. Gen. Comd'g

``Hd Qrs A of Potomac 4 P.M. Jan. 29. 1865.

Maj. Gen. E. O. C. Ord Hd Qrs A of J.

The following dispatch is forwarded to you, for your action. Since I have no knowledge of Gen. Grant's having had any understanding of this kind I refer the matter to you as the ranking officer present in the two Armies. Signed JNO. G. PARKE ``Maj. Gen. Comd'g.''

``From Hd Qrs 9th A. Corps 29.

Maj. Gen. Jno. G. Parke, Hd Qrs A. of P.

Alex H. Stevens, R. M. T. Hunter & W. J. A. Campbell desire to cross my lines in accordance with an understanding claimed to exist with Lt. Gen Grant, on their way to Washington as peace Commissioners. Shall they be admitted? They desire an early answer to come through immediately Would like to reach City Point tonight if they can. If they cannot do this they would like to come through at 10 A.M. tomorrow morning.

Signed O. B. WILCOX Maj Gen. Cmdg ``9th Corps''

Respectfully referred to the President for his instructions as he may be pleased to give EDWIN M STANTON Sec of War

8.30 PM Jan 29. 1865

Page  277It appears that about the time of placing the foregoing telegram in my hands, the Secretary of War despached Gen. Ord as follows, to-wit: [7]

Copy War Department Washington City

Maj Gen Ord. Jany 29th 1865 10. P.M

This Department has no knowledge of any understanding by Genl Grant to allow any person to come within his lines as commissioners of any sort. You will therefore allow no one to come into your lines under such character or profession, until you receive the President's instructions, to whom your telegram will be submitted for his directions

(signed) EDWIN M. STANTON Sec'y of War

Sent in Cipher at 2. A.M. 30th

Afterwards, by my direction, the Secretary of War telegraphed Gen. Ord as follows, towit: [8]

Copy.

Maj. Gen. E. O. C. Ord, War Department Washington D.C.

Hd. Qrs. Army James. 10.30 A.M. January 30.1865.

By direction of the President you are instructed to inform the three gentlemen, Messrs Stephens, Hunter and Campbell, that a messenger will be dispatched to them at, or near where they now are, without unnecessary delay. Signed EDWIN M. STANTON Secretary of War.

Afterwards I prepared and put into the hands of Major Thomas T. Eckert, the following instructions and message. [9]

Major T. T. Eckert Executive Mansion

Sir. Washington, Jan. 30. 1865

You will proceed with the documents placed in your hands; and, on reaching Gen. Ord, will deliver him the letter addressed to him by the Secretary of War; then, by Gen. Ord's assistance, procure an interview with Messrs. Stephens Hunter and Campbell, or any of them, deliver to him or them the paper on which your own letter is written, note on the copy which you retain, the time of delivery and to whom delivered, receive their answer in writing waiting a reasonable time for it, and which, if it contain their decision to come through, without further condition, will be your warrant to ask Gen Ord to pass them through as directed in the letter of the Secretary of War to him. If by their answer they decline to come, or propose other terms, do not not [sic] have the [m] passed through. And this being your whole duty, return and report to me. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

Messrs Alex H. Stephens, J. A. Campbell & R. M. T. Hunter

Gentlemen: I am instructed by the President of the United States to place this paper in your hands with the information that if you pass through the U.S. Military lines it will be understood that you do so for the purpose of an informal conference, on the basis of the letter, aPage  278 copy of which is on the reverse side of this sheet, and that if you choose to pass on such understanding, and so notify me in writing, I will procure the Commanding General to pass you through the lines, and to Fortress-Monroe, under such military precautions as he may deem prudent; and, at which place you will be met in due time by some person or persons for the purpose of such informal conference. And further that you shall have protection, safe-conduct, and safe return, in all events. THOS. T. ECKERT.

City Point Va. Maj & A.D.C.

February 1st. 1865.

Afterwards, but before Major Eckert had departed, the following despatch was received from Gen. Grant [10]

Office U.S. Military Telegraph,

Cipher War Department.

The following Telegram received at Washington, M. Jan. 31. 1865.

His Excellency Abraham Lincoln. From City Point Va.

President of the U.S. 10.30 AM Jan. 31. 1865.

The following communication was received here last evening.

``Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant Petersburg Va.

Comd'g Armies U.S. Jan. 30. 1865.

Sir: We desire to pass your lines under safe conduct and to proceed to Washington to hold a conference with President Lincoln upon the subject of the existing war, and with a view of ascertaining upon what terms it may be terminated, in pursuance of the course indicated by him in his letter to Mr Blair of January 18th. 1865, of which we presume you have a copy, and if not, we wish to see you in person if convenient, and to confer with you upon the subject. Signed, Very Respy Yours ALEXANDER STEVENS

J. A. CAMPBELL

R. M. T. HUNTER''

I have sent directions to receive these gentlemen and expect to have them at my Quarters this evening awaiting your instructions.

U. S. GRANT Lieut Genl Comdg Armies US

This, it will be perceived, transferred Gen. Ord's agency in the matter to Gen. Grant. I resolved, however to send Major Eckert forward with his Message, and accordingly telegraphed Gen. Grant as follows, towit: [11]

Telegram copy.

Lieut Genl Grant Executive Mansion

City Point Va. Washington Jany 31st. 1865

A messenger is coming to you on the business contained in your despatch. Detain the gentlemen in comfortable quarters until he arrives and then act upon the message he brings, as far as applicable, it having been made up to pass through Genl Ord's hands, and when the gentlemen were supposed to be beyond our lines (signed) A. LINCOLN

Sent in Cipher at 1.30. P.M.

Page  279When Major Eckert departed he bore with him a letter of the Secretary of War to Gen. Grant as follows, towit: [12]

Letter Copy War Department Washington D.C.

Lt Genl Grant Comd'g &c. Jany 30th 1865

General: The President desires that you will please procure for the bearer, Major Thomas T. Eckert, an interview with Messrs Stephens, Hunter, & Campbell,---and if on his return to you he requests it---pass them through our lines to Fortress Monroe by such route and under such Military precautions as you may deem prudent, giving them protection & comfortable quarters while there; and that you let none of this, have any effect upon your movements or plans.

By order of the President

(signed) EDWIN M. STANTON Secretary of War

Supposing the proper point to be then reached I despatched the Secretary of State with the following instructions, Major Eckert, however, going ahead of him. [13]

Hon. William H. Seward. Executive Mansion

Secretary of State. Washington, Jan. 31. 1865

You will proceed to Fortress-Monroe, Virginia, there to meet, and informally confer with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, on the basis of my letter to F. P. Blair, Esq. of Jan. 18. 1865, a copy of which you have.

You will make known to them that three things are indispensable, towit:

1 The restoration of the National authority throughout all the States.

2 No receding by the Executive of the United States, on the Slavery question, from the position assumed thereon, in the late Annual Message to Congress, and on preceding documents.

3 No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.

Page  280You will inform them that all propositions of theirs, not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon, in a spirit of sincere liberality.

You will hear all they may choose to say, and report it to me.

You will not assume to definitely consummate any thing. Yours &c

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

On the day of it's date the following telegram was sent to Gen. Grant. [14]

Telegram Copy.

Lieut Genl Grant War Department Washington D.C.

City Point Va. Feby 1st. 1865

Let nothing which is transpiring, change, hinder, or delay your Military movements, or plans (signed) A. LINCOLN

Sent in cipher at 9.30 a.m

Afterwards the following despatch was received from Gen. Grant. [15]

In Cipher Office U.S. Military Telegraph,

War Department.

The following Telegram received at Washington,

2.30 P.M. Feby 1st. 1865

His Excellency A. Lincoln From City Point Va

Prest U.S. Feb'y 1st. 12.30 P.M 1865

Your despatch received; there will be no armistice in consequence of the presence of Mr Stephens and others within our lines. The troops are kept in readiness to move at the shortest notice if occasion should justify it U. S. GRANT Lieut Genl

To notify Major Eckert that the Secretary of State would be at Fortress-Monroe, and to put them in communication the following despatch was sent. [16]

Telegram Copy

Maj T. T. Eckert War Department Washington D.C.

Care Genl Grant City Point Va. Feby 1st. 1865

Call at Fortress Monroe & put yourself under direction of Mr S. whom you will find there (signed) A. LINCOLN

Sent in cipher at 5.30 P.M.

On the morning of the 2nd. Inst. the following telegrams were received by me respectively from the Secretary of State and Major Eckert. [17]

Recd 4. 30 AM Feb 2nd United States Military Telegraph,

In cipher War Department.

The President U.S. Fort Monroe Va 11 30 PM Feb 1. 1865

Arrived at ten (10) this evening. Richmond party not here. I remain here. WM H. SEWARD

Page  281Recd United States Military Telegraph,

In cipher Feb 2nd. War Department.

His Excellency A Lincoln City Point Va

President U.S. 10 PM Feb 1. 1865

I have the honor to report the delivery of your communication and my letter at four fifteen 4. 15 this afternoon, to which I received a reply at six (6) P.M, but not satisfactory.

At eight (8) PM the following note addressed to Genl Grant was received. [18]

To ``Lt Gen Grant, City Point Va

Sir, Feb 1. 1865''

``We desire to go to Washington City to confer informally with the President personally in reference to the matters mentioned in his letter to Mr Blair of the eighteenth 18th January ultimo, without any personal compromise on any question in the letter.

``We have the permission to do so from the authorities in Richmond.''

Very Respectfully Yours'' (signed) ``ALEX H. STEPHENS

``R. M T. HUNTER

``J. A CAMPBELL''

At nine thirty (9.30) P.M I notified them that they could not proceed further unless they complied with the terms expressed in my letter. The point of meeting designated, in above note, would not in my opinion, be insisted upon Think Fort Monroe would be acceptable. Having complied with my instructions, I will return to Washington to-morrow unless otherwise ordered. THOS T. ECKERT Maj &c

On reading this despatch of Major Eckert I was about to recall him and the Secretary of State when the following telegram of Gen. Grant to the Secretary of War was shown me. [19]

Page  282Office U.S. Military Telegraph,

In cipher War Department.

The following Telegram received at Washington,

4.35 A.M. Feby 2nd. 1865

From City Point Va. Feby 1st. 10.30 P.M 1865

Hon Edwin M Stanton Secy of War.

Now that the interview between Maj. Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr Stevens & party, has ended I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs Stevens & Hunter that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticency. This has placed me in an awkward position which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry however that Mr Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch if not all three now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the Presidents instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct if they had used the same language to Maj Eckert (signed) U.S. GRANT Lt Genl

This despatch of Gen. Grant changed my purpose; and, accordingly, I telegraphed him and the Secretary of State respectively as follow. [20]

Copy. War Department

Lieut Genl Grant Washington D.C.

City Point Va. Feby 2nd. 1865

Say to the gentlemen I will meet them personally at Fortress Monroe as soon as I can get there (signed) A. LINCOLN

Sent in cipher at 9.A.M.

Copy War Department

Hon Wm. H. Seward Washington D.C.

Fortress Monroe Va. Feby 2nd. 1865

Induced by a despatch from Genl Grant, I join you at Fort Monroe as soon as I can come (signed) A. LINCOLN

Sent in cipher at 9. A.M.

Before starting the following despatch was shown me; I proceeded nevertheless. [21]

Page  283Office U.S. Military Telegraph,

Cipher War Department.

The following Telegram received at Washington, M. Feby. 2d. 1865

From City Point Va 9 A.M. Feby. 2d. 1865

Hon Wm. H. Seward Secretary of State Ft. Monroe

Copy to Hon. Edwin M. Stanton Secretary of War Wash.

The gentlemen here have accepted the proposed terms and will leave for Ft. Monroe at 9.30 A.M. U.S. GRANT Lt. Genl.

On the night of the 2nd. I reached Hampton Roads found the Secretary of State and Major Eckert on a Steamer anchored off shore, and learned of them that the Richmond gentlemen were on another Steamer also anchored off shore in the Roads, and that the Secretary of State had not yet seen, or communicated with them. Here I ascertained that Major Eckert had litterally complied with his instructructions [sic] and I saw, for the first, the answer of the Richmond gentlemen to him, which in his despatch to me of the 1st. he characterizes as ``not satisfactory.[''] That answer is as follows, towit: [22]

Copy

Thomas J. [T.] Eckert City Point Va.

Major & A.D.C. Feby 1st. 1865

Major. Your note delivered by yourself this day has been considered. In reply we have to say that we were furnished with a copy of the letter of President Lincoln to Francis P. Blair Esq of the 18th of Jany ult. another copy of which is appended to your note.

Our instructions are contained in a letter of which the following is a copy.

``Richmond Jany 28th 1865

``In conformity with the letter of Mr Lincoln of which the foregoing is a copy, you are to proceed to Washington City for informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries. With great respect Your ob't Servt (signed) JEFFERSON DAVIS''

The substantial object to be obtained by the informal conference is, to ascertain upon what terms the existing war can be terminated honorably.

Our instructions contemplate a personal interview between President Lincoln and ourselves at Washington City, but with this explanation we are ready to meet any person or persons that President Lincoln may appoint, at such place as he may designate.

Our earnest desire is that a just and honorable peace may be agreed upon, and we are prepared to receive or to submit propositions which may, possibly, lead to the attainment of that end. Very Respectfully Yours (signed) ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS

R. M. T. HUNTER

JOHN A. CAMPBELL

Page  284A note of these gentlemen, subsequently addressed to Gen. Grant, has already been given in Major Eckert's despatch of the 1st. Inst. I also here saw, for the first [time], the following note addressed by the Richmond gentlemen to Major Eckert: [23]

Copy.

Thomas C. [T.] Eckert City Point Va.

Major & A.D.C. Feby 2nd. 1865

Major. In reply to your verbal statement that your instructions did not allow you to alter the conditions upon which a passport could be given to us, we say that we are willing to proceed to Fortress Monroe and there to have an informal conference with any person or persons that President Lincoln may appoint on the basis of his letter to Francis P. Blair of the 18th of Jan'y ult. or upon any other terms, or conditions that he may hereafter propose not inconsistent with the essential principles of self government and popular rights upon which our institutions are founded.

It is our earnest wish to ascertain after a free interchange of ideas and information, upon what principles and terms, if any, a just and honorable peace can be established without the further effusion of blood, and to contribute our utmost efforts to accomplish such a result.

We think it better to add that in accepting your passport we are not to be understood as committing ourselves to anything, but to carry to this informal conference the views and feelings above expressed. Very Respectfully Yours &c (signed) ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS

J. A. CAMPBELL

R. M. T. HUNTER

Note

The above communication was delivered to me at Fort Monroe at 4.30 P.M. Feby 2nd. by Lieut Col Babcock of Gen'l Grants Staff

(signed) THOS T. ECKERT Maj & A.D.C

On the morning of the 3rd., the three gentlemen, Messrs Stephens, Hunter and Campbell, came aboard of our Steamer and had an interview with the Secretary of State and myself of several hours duration. No question of preliminaries to the meeting was then and there made or mentioned. No other person was present; no papers were exchanged, or produced; and it was, in advance, agreed that the conversation was to be informal, and verbal merely. [24] On our part, the whole substance of the instructions to the Secretary of State, herein before recited, was stated and insisted upon, and nothing was said inconsistently therewith; while, by the other party it was not said that, in any event, or on any condition, they ever would consent to re-union, and yet theyPage  285 equally omitted to declare that they never would so consent. They seemed to desire a postponement of that question, and the adoption of some other course first, which, as some of them, seemed to argue, might, or might not, lead to re-union, but which course, we thought, would amount to an indefinite postponement. The conferrence ended without result. The foregoing, containing, as is believed, all the information sought, is respectfully submitted. [25]

Executive Mansion, ABRAHAM LINCOLN

February 10th, 1865.

Annotation

[1]   AD, DLC-RTL; DS, DNA RG 233, House Executive Document No. 59. On February 8, Schuyler Colfax wrote Lincoln: ``The Senate have been hesitating for two days about Mr. Sumner's resolution, asking for information as to the recent Conference at Hampton Roads. . . . I stated . . . to Mr. [Thaddeus] Stevens this morning that I understood from you that you had no objection to communicating the information, & a resolution has been passed unanimously, asking for it. . . . Under the circumstances, even if the Senate pass the resolution today, I hope you will reply to the House Resolution, in duplicate, if you feel required to answer the delayed Senate Resolution to that Body. I know the answer cannot fail to increase the confidence of the American people in you.'' (DLC-RTL).

The autograph manuscript of Lincoln's communication is composed of Lincoln's autograph letters, telegrams received, etc., which he collected for the purpose. In succeeding footnotes each document is described as it appears in Lincoln's manuscript. Peculiarities of punctuation and spelling follow Lincoln's original manuscript rather than the signed document sent to the House of Representatives.

[2]   ADS.

[3]   ALS.

[4]   ALS copy.

[5]   AES.

[6]   Received telegram endorsed in Stanton's autograph.

[7]   Copy.

[8]   Copy.

[9]   ALS copy and copy. The original autographs of these two documents, carried by Eckert, are described under their respective dates, supra.

[10]   Telegram received. An autograph copy in Lincoln's handwriting is in the Seward Papers, NAuE.

[11]   Copy.

[12]   Copy.

[13]   ALS copy.

Not included in Lincoln's report but important to the narrative is the following:

``Head Quarters Armies of the United States,

``January 31st 1865.

``Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, J. A Campbell, and R. M. T Hunter

``Gentlemen! Your communication of yesterday requesting an interview with myself and a safe conduct to Washington and return, is received. I will instruct the Commanding Officer of the forces near Petersburg to receive you, notifying you at what point of the line and the time when and where conveyance will be ready for you.

``Your letter to me has been telegraphed to Washington for instructions. I have no doubt but that before you arrive at my Headquarters an answer will be received directing me to comply with your request. Should a different reply be received I promise you a safe and immediate return within your own lines. I am, very respectfully (sgd) U. S. GRANT

``Official Lieutenant General.

``T. S. Bowers.

``Asst. Adjt. Gen'l.'' (Copy, owned by Justin G. Turner, Los Angeles, California).

[14]   Copy.

[15]   Telegram received.

[16]   Copy.

[17]   Telegrams received.

[18]   The original note signed by Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, as well as the autograph draft of Eckert's telegram, is now owned by Justin G. Turner, Los Angeles, California.

[19]   Telegram received. Not included by Lincoln in his report but important to the narrative is the following telegram:

``City Point Va Feby 1st. 1865

``Hon Edwin M Stanton. ``10.30 PM

``In reply to the letters delivered by me to Messrs Stephens, Campbell & Hunter, they give a copy of their instructions from Jefferson Davis, which I think is a verbatim copy of that now in the Presidents possession, am posative about the last two words, which differs from the ending of copy delivered by me & to which the President called my particular attention.

``After giving object of conference they add, 'Our instructions contemplate a personal interview with President L at Washington, but with this explanation we are ready to meet any person or persons that President L. may appoint at such place as he may designate. Our earnest desire is that a just & honorable peace may be agreed upon & we are prepared to receive or to submit propositions which may possibly lead to the attainment of that end. Signed Alex H Stephens, R M T Hunter & J A Campbell.' They say the ending of letter I delivered to them is the only objectionable point & one that, in their opinion, should be left out of both, the letter they bring as well as the one they receive, adding if they accept the latter & terms are not agreed upon, it would be an acknowledgement that might prejudice future interests of people they represent. THOS. T. ECKERT.'' (ALS, owned by Justin G. Turner, Los Angeles, California).

[20]   Copies.

[21]   Telegram received.

[22]   Copy. The original manuscript of this letter is owned by Justin G. Turner, Los Angeles, California.

[23]   Copy. The original manuscript of this letter is owned by Justin G. Turner, Los Angeles, California.

[24]   Lincoln deleted four lines at this point: ``and that no one was to be committed by it. Perhaps a pledge of secrecy, as to particulars, was implied, though not expressed. I believe, however, there can be no impropriety in stating that.''

[25]   The autograph manuscript ends without the date and signature which appear on the signed copy sent to the House of Representatives.